iOS Board Games

Among the best things in life is playing printed games in person with family and close friends. When those are not convenient we like iOS Board Games. News, reviews, previews, and opinions about board gaming on iPhones, iPads, iPods and even Android devices. (iPhone board games, iPad board games, iPod board games, Android board games)
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iOS Review: Hero Academy

Brad Cummings
United States
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The Stats:
Compatibility: iPhone and iPod Touch, iPad at 2x
Current Price: Free
Developer/Publisher: Robot Entertainment
Version: 1.0
Size: 46.1 MB
Multiplayer: Online Multiplayer
AI: None.
Itunes link:Hero Academy

The Good:
- The game has cohesive and thematic graphic design.
- The online system is well designed and features asynchronous play.
The Bad:
- The lack of a solo play mode may discourage some players.
- The game is simple and features a tutorial, but an easier way to learn the abilities of each unit in the army is needed.
Hero Academy is the first iOS offering from Robot Entertainment, the makers of Orcs Must Die! and Age of Empires Online. Luckily for us iOS Board Gamers, their first project is a turn based tactical battle game with fantasy armies. It uses a polished yet humorous art style to portray a skirmish that is more like a rugby match than the assault on Helms Deep.

In Hero Academy players face off in one on one matches against other players. Each player controls an army with varying units and abilities. Currently there are two armies to choose from: Humans and Dark Elves. Similar to tactical games like Summoner Wars, players battle with a set army but must make strategic choices in how to deploy and manage that army. The two armies vary in unit abilities but generally there are ranged, magic, melee and healing units. Players receive a random hand of units and items from their supply, and it is up to them to decide how they will use them. Each turn players receive five actions per turn which they can use to move units, deploy units, attack other units or crystals, or use items. Turns are done asynchronously so players can try to use their actions in different ways, finally submitting their turn when they are confident with their move. Action management is the driving force in this game. Do you deploy more units or strengthen the units you already have out with items? Do you move forward and attack or protect your defensive line? Units in Hero Academy can move or attack as many times as they like in a turn (five action limit barring) so balancing and deciding what strategy to take is very engrossing. Players are attempting to attack and destroy their opponent’s crystals while protecting their own. The first player to lose all of their crystals or units first is the loser.

Hero Academy is quite a fun tactical game with more to it than can be seen from the surface. The armies are similar and balanced, but the variety comes in the way your units come up from your supply, and your skill in using them. It really has the makings of a “sport”.
There are many reasons to not like Hero Academy. Many will complain about its freemium style, while others will sight that it is not based on a board game and perhaps too light for a “board game geek”. I am here to tell you to give it a try despite your fears. Hero Academy is not a perfect app but it is one of the most engaging games I have played recently and its tactical gameplay and asynchronous online multiplayer make it a perfect fit for any geek’s collection.

All players should be impressed by the deliberate nature of this game. It knows what it is and what it is not and is not afraid to reject features that do not fit its nature. For example, Hero Academy is a purely multiplayer experience. Players can follow a brief yet effective tutorial and read over their army’s special abilities (this information can be accessed in-game as well but is cumbersome to access. The game needs an improvement in this area), however, in this tactical game the only way to really practice and learn tactics is to jump right in to online multiplayer. This can be a scary experience but is not too far outside the experience of playing an actual board game or a console multiplayer shooter. In these experiences players must struggle through a “n00b” period as they get a grasp on the game. Hero academy is turned based so the experience is not as a severe, but you will be grasping at basic tactics through your first few matches. AI players to learn and practice against would have been helpful, but the game is simple and you will quickly learn tactics as they are used against you. Also to aid players, an update has been launched which includes a strategy guide for each army. The folks at Robot Entertainment have managed to craft a very well done multiplayer system. It is entirely asynchronous and offers play back of the previous player’s turn so you can see exactly what happened. You can many games open at a time (I have about eight open and do not see a limit) and you can use social networking to find matches, search by username or join random matches. My one complaint so far with the online play system is that so many players will not take their turns. I have several games that I initiated that now lay dormant because players have not logged in to make their moves. It would be great to see a chess clock type system integrated into Hero Academy as was used in the recent Ascension update. This would make games move faster and also help keep their servers clean as the game launches in the US. Overall the system works well and seems to be well designed. In the future it would be great to see Game Center integration as well as some sort of record/rank tracking to make the multiplayer more competitive. For now the system is solid and there always seem to be plenty of matches to join.

The graphic design in Hero Academy is also deliberate and manages to achieve parody without being obnoxious. Unlike Munchkin the jokes don’t get old because they are never shoved in your face. The game does reduce fantasy warfare into something of a sport, but this premise is enjoyable and a nice backdrop to some decent and balanced gameplay. Each unit and item in the game has a unique look so after the initial learning of abilities you will be able to identify units quickly. Everything in the game has a sheen of polish that you would expect from an A level developer. The interface is done well overall and most of it is clear from the get go. To use, move or deploy units or items dragging and dropping or clicking will get the job done. The other in-game buttons are also clear, such as the undo button which allows you to reassign your actions. I do wish there was a way to step back just one action, but from what I have seen you must start again with all five of your actions. Overall, the interface is sleek and easy to manage.

The freemium model is something that can be very annoying. It is often used as a trick to addict you and then charge for meaningless in game goods. For many gamers the freemium model gives a game an automatic pass. This is the correct reaction in many cases because the freemium model can be done in both annoying and incorrect ways. However, we gamers must come to grips with the fact that the freemium model is here to stay. Luckily, apps like Hero Academy know how to do freemium correctly. In your initial download you receive access to the full app with the human army and built in ads. For $.99 you receive access to the second army, the Dark Elves and all ads will be removed. So essentially, the app is $.99. They, wisely, do not just make you pay to only remove ads but also give you additional content. The other in app purchases do not affect gameplay at all but simply provide additional aesthetic add-ons for your army. I find that this is the proper way to introduce freemium elements in to an app and hope that apps that choose to use the freemium model will follow similar patterns. This purchase model ensures that upon its US release the app will have a large player base right at the start.

Hero Academy is a great example of asynchronous tactical gameplay on iOS. Being developed by Robot Entertainment, it should attract a large audience very quickly. The app is not perfect and it could use more features to help it deliver on its multiplayer promises, but with a low cost of entry, it is a game that you shouldn’t miss. Boot it up, give it a try, and see if it becomes one of your staples.

Rating: 3/4 Good
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